San Anselmo is an incorporated town in Marin County, California, in the western United States. San Anselmo is located 1.5 miles (2.4 km) west of San Rafael, at an elevation of 46 feet (14 m). It is located about 20 miles (32 km) north of San Francisco. Neighboring towns include San Rafael to the east, Fairfax to the west, and Ross to the south. Mount Tamalpais dominates the view to the south. The population was 12,336 at the 2010 census.
The land in and around San Anselmo was mostly pastoral until 1874, when the North Pacific Coast Railroad (NPC) added to its line a spur track from San Anselmo to San Rafael. In 1875, the railroad completed a line from Sausalito to Tomales and north to Cazadero via San Anselmo. For a few years, the town was referred to on railroad maps as “Junction”, but in 1883 the name San Anselmo came back into use. The San Anselmo post office opened in 1892. Two postal substations were operated: Lansdale, from 1924 to 1962, and Yolanda, from 1924 to 1954.
From 1902 until the early 1940s, San Anselmo was part of Marin’s Northwestern Pacific (in 1907, investors formed the NWP) Electric Train system. The Miracle Mile’s and Center Boulevard’s current “raised roadbed” were the railroad’s right of way. Becoming unprofitable as a result of competition from the automobile and the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge, the railway was officially closed on March 1, 1941. The last of the major San Anselmo railroad station buildings was razed in 1963, according to the town’s timeline.
The 1913 electric train schedule shows a commute time from San Anselmo to the Sausalito Ferry to the Ferry Building in San Francisco of a mere 58 minutes, including the 32 minute ferry transit.
San Anselmo incorporated on April 9, 1907. Its name came from the Punta de Quintin land grant, which marked the valley as the Canada del Anselmo, or Valley of Anselm, Anselm being the name of a Native American who was buried in the area. San Anselmo was a silent film capital in the early 1900s. On March 12, 1974, San Anselmo officially became a town.
The town features in the song Snow in San Anselmo by Irish born singer/songwriter Van Morrison, about an unusual bout of winter weather that occurred when he was living in Fairfax, near San Anselmo, in the 1970s.
San Anselmo’s most prominent resident, movie director George Lucas, used some of the proceeds from his film “American Graffiti” to buy an old Victorian house in San Anselmo; his then-wife Marcia Lucas named it “Parkhouse.” Lucas worked on his “Star Wars” script for two and a half years, writing much of it at the back of his San Anselmo house in a room he shared with a gaudy Wurlitzer jukebox. In 1977, Lucas screened an early version of “Star Wars,” without completed special effects, at his San Anselmo home for a small group of Hollywood friends, including the producer Alan Ladd, Jr., directors Steven Spielberg, Brian DePalma, and Martin Scorsese, and screenwriters Jay Cocks, Willard Huyck, and Gloria Katz.
Most of the downtown antique and boutique stores and restaurants, for which San Anselmo is well known, are along the banks of San Anselmo Creek.
The average high temperature is 85 °F (29 °C), in July, and the average low temperature is 41 °F (5 °C), in January and December. The record high was 111 °F (44 °C) in July, 1972, and record low was 18 °F (−8 °C) in December, 1990. Average rainfall is 47.47 inches (1,206 mm), with the rainiest month being January.
All but a sliver of San Anselmo lies within the 28-square-mile (73 km2) Ross Valley Watershed that flows into San Francisco Bay. The principal waterway of the town’s portion of the watershed is San Anselmo Creek, a branch of Corte Madera Creek. Two of San Anselmo Creek’s tributaries, Sleepy Hollow Creek and Sorich Creek, also flow through the town, as do East Fork Creek and West Fork Creek, Sorich Creek’s two tributaries.
There are three main roads running through San Anselmo. Their junction is known locally as the Hub, which lies near the central business district. Sir Francis Drake Boulevard runs north from Ross, turns north-west at the Hub, and then proceeds west to Fairfax. Red Hill Avenue (also called “The Miracle Mile”) runs west from San Rafael, after 4th Street and 3rd Street merge, and into the Hub where it becomes Center Boulevard. Center Boulevard runs north-west from the Hub to Fairfax and Sir Francis Drake parallels Center Boulevard to Fairfax, offset to the north.
The town’s natural skyline is dominated by the hills of Ross Valley. To the north are Red Hill and Grove Hill. To the south-west is Bald Hill. To the east is Moore Hill. In the distance to the south is Mount Tamalpais.
A large part of southern and western San Anselmo is built on a natural flood plain. About every 15–23 years, heavy rains cause the San Anselmo creek to flood the center of town by up to 4 feet – 1925, 1940 (11.38″ rainfall in 3 days), 1963, January 1982, as well as December 30/31, 2005. The worst flood, on Jan 2, 1982 (the highest creek water level, according to interviews with longtime creek side residents) was preceded by a rainfall amount that exceeded 8″ in 12 hours.
San Anselmo’s historic raised railroad bed (now Center Boulevard), acts as a dike, providing some flood protection to the west side houses, upstream of the business district.
A number of homes on the floodplain (called the “Flatlands” by the Town) as far back as at least 1920, have been built with raised foundations to accommodate the minor periodic floods.